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Duke of Berry Tapestry
Chantilly, France

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Jean, Count of Poitiers, who in 1360 became Duke of Berry, the third son of Jean II, King of France, known as The Brave, and brother to King Charles V, has gone down in history as a passionate collector of art objects.  Unable to resist acquiring rare and curious treasures displayed to him, he assembled in his chateaux priceless collections which were catalogued in inventories during his lifetime, in the years 1406-and 1413, and again at his death.  Through these hundreds of lists it is possible to form some idea of the collection in its totality, for, soon after his death in Paris, on June 15, 1416, his art works were dispersed.  Objects of gold and silver were melted down to replenish the royal treasury or to pay combatants; the battle of Agincourt had been lost in October 1415, after which the English laid waste northern France.

This tapestry, known as "Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry", is named after its owner The Duke of Berry.  His brother, the Duke Louis of Anjou, was -- like most members of the royal family -- great lovers of arts, and it was Duke Louis who had the famous tapestries "The Apocalypse" (shown elsewhere on this site) woven for the decoration of the Great Hall of the Chateau d'Angers for celebrations and solemn ceremonies.  

France 1965. Renaissance Tapestry. The Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry.

Renaissance Tapestry. The original full tapestry of The Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry.

In the record prepared in 1416, mention is made of a small wooden casket containing pages illustrated with miniatures and destined to form a Book of Hours or devotional.  This was to be in the form of a calendar showing the twelve months of the year, followed by passages relating to various religious services.  The inventory states that "this work was made by Pol and his brothers, very richly recounted and painted".

Please note that there exists a very interesting variety of this stamp, known as the "White Sky".  This variety occurred during the printing of sheets numbered 52123 and 52124, when the yellow tint forming part of the background of the miniature failed to print.  This printing flaw affects all 25 stamps on each sheet, and is thus a major printing error.  The fact that it is especially noticeable in the meadow forming the upper section of the stamp gave the variety its popular name. 

It has thus been possible to establish with certainty the identity of the artists responsible for the 64 most beautiful miniatures (40 large and 24 small), which were completed in 1416: they were the three brothers from Limbourg, Pol, Herman and Jannequin, skilled miniaturists from Flanders who entered the service of the Duke of Berry around 1408.  Little is known of these artists, whose existence is mentioned in a few brief lines and who vanish with the death of the Duke.  The few works which can with certainty be attributed to them, however, reveal exquisite craftsmanship, remarkable animation of expression and unusual grace of attitude in the figures.

The unfinished manuscript was inherited by the Duke of Savoy, Charles I, who entrusted its completion around 1485, to Jean Colombe, an artist from Bourges.  The talents of this artist are, however, not equal to those of the Brothers from Limbourg.  At the death of Philibert the Fair, Duke of Savoy, in 1504, the Book of Hours, which was now finished, became the property of his wife, Margaret of Austria.  She had the manuscript bound in velvet with a silver clasp, and the magnificent book was then placed among the objects in her "oratory".  Through successive bequests, the "Hours" came into the hands of the aristocratic Spinola family, en Genoa, Italy.  They were then purchased by the Duke of Aumale, fourth son of Louis-Philippe I, and displayed in his fine collections in his chateau at Chantilly, near Paris.

In 1897, the collections and the chateau which housed them were donated by the Prince to the French Institute, as the five French Academies are collectively called.  The manuscript of "The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry" is now considered to be one of the finest early French books in existence, and is one of the most cherished possessions of the Condé Museum, in Chantilly. 

As mentioned above the Duke of Anjou and the Duke of Berry were sons of the French King Jean (II) "Le Bon", who reigned 1350-1364.  
  • France 1964.  Portrait of Jean le Bon, commemorating his 600th death anniversary, and probably painted 1359 by the medieval painter Girard d'Orléans.

The inscription above the portrait reads: "Jehan Roy de France", and shows a nearly radiant portrait of a king who assumed the throne after his father, Philippe VI, and took over an impoverished country pestered by the Plague that ravaged Europe at his time.  

France 1964. Renaissance Tapestry. Portrait of Jean le Bon.

He did his best to protect France against foreign aggressors during the Hundred Years' War, but died in England as a political hostage.  After his death his eldest son became king of  France as Charles V.  The youngest son, Duke Philippe of Burgundy, is the only one to be nearly forgotten by history.  

For those interested in genealogy, here is an overview of Jean le Bon's ancestry and posterity.  

 Genealogy of Jean Le Bon's Ancestry.

Sources, links and acknowledgements: 

Other Tapestry on this site: 

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